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Cambridge University Library


In 2016 Dominican friars celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of their order. To mark the event, Cambridge University Library is hosting A pipeline from heaven, an online exhibition highlighting eight centuries of Dominican books.

St Dominic settled a religious community of preachers at Saint-Romain in Toulouse In 1216. A year later, in August 1217, he dispersed them to Paris and Spain, to transform them into what in time became a global religious brotherhood, the Order of Preachers, dedicated to communicating the Christian Faith. The friars are now present in over one hundred countries around the world.

Books have been central to the Dominicans’ work from the start: an early master of the Order described them as a ‘pipeline bringing wisdom down from heaven’ (Humbert of Romans, Commentary on the Rule of St Augustine). Dominican friars advanced a systematic or scholastic philosophical theology that drew controversially on newly available texts of Aristotle. They preached in the vernacular to the increasingly educated urban populace of Europe, and created new books to facilitate their mission: critical editions of the Bible; biblical concordances; theological textbooks; manuals for confessors; and collections of model sermons. 

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas championed the human rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas: his Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies was reprinted in Protestant Europe as a propaganda weapon against Catholic Spain; while his account of the Indians’ religious and civil rights was developed by the Salamanca Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria and Domingo de Soto.

Suppressed in many countries at the Reformation and in others after the French Revolution and Enlightenment, the friars opened new houses in Britain and France during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In England they inspired artists and writers such as Eric Gill, David Jones, and the members of the Ditchling Community. French Dominicans such as Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu prepared the ground for the Second Vatican Council.

A pipeline from heaven has been curated by Professor Nigel Morgan and Father Richard Finn, and is based on books and manuscripts held by Cambridge University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Cambridge colleges.

During February a selection of Dominican books featured in the online exhibition will be on display in the library’s Entrance Hall.